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Atlanta is NOT full of people. It’s full of cars.

June 11, 2016

There’s a funny meme making the rounds showing a fully jammed Atlanta Connector with the downtown skyline in the background.

The meme reads, “STOP MOVING TO ATLANTA. WE FULL.”

Any number of metro Atlanta residents have groaned in recognition and agreement.

But it’s only half true. As the picture shows, the traffic here is awful and bordering on ridiculous. Atlanta is full… of cars.

If you go up to any reasonably high vantage point in and around the city, you will be treated to a sea of green. Trees blanket well over half of the city… visitors often comment on how lush and beautiful Atlanta is compared to most other cities.

Apartment complexes sprawl over multiple blocks and usually only climb to three stories. Both older and newer neighborhoods boast comfortable-sized homes with ample yards. Some of the most compact residential units–the housing projects–were bulldozed decades ago.

In addition, my neighborhood and many others in the city proper suffer from urban blight–abandoned and dilapidated houses line many of the inner-city streets, awaiting rescue from bank ownership or other circumstances of neglect. Lots of wasted space.

The metro Atlanta area has a population of over 6 million people and sprawls over five central counties and over a dozen adjacent counties; together the metro land area is roughly the size of Massachusetts. There’s a lot of room here.

Manhattan has a population density of nearly 70,000 people per square mile and manages to not try to turn people away. New York City altogether has a somewhat less intense population density of 27,000 people per square mile. Miami clocks in at 11,000.

The population density in the metro Atlanta area: 630 people per square mile. The city itself has a density of 3,360 people per square mile. Or three times less concentrated than Miami. Or 20 times less concentrated than Manhattan.

In what universe is Atlanta “full”? Wait, I know the answer: a universe where most everyone feels entitled to a 1,000-square-foot single occupancy apartment and at least one vehicle that they drive around in alone all the time. And a free parking spot.

So, yes, the roads are full. With so many transplants, motorists typically don’t know how to get anywhere without hopping on the interstate highways. Clueless suburbanites routinely reject initiatives to expand public transportation, thinking that criminals will somehow break into their houses, steal their TVs, and hop on the bus for a quick getaway.

The meme’s unwelcoming attitude, humorous though it is, could hamstring the area economy. We need public transit, alternative transportation, and a little more sense of community. We DON’T need more lanes, super-deluxe loop-de-loops on existing highways, and racist, classist, regressive attitudes toward public transportation.

The numbers make it clear that Atlanta is not full of people. I can tell you, though, what the people who think that are full of.

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